Islamabad, Aug. 27: Pakistani authorities today clamped an indefinite curfew on Quetta following sporadic violence and arson in the city in protest against the killing of Baluch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti during a military operation late yesterday.
Bugti was hiding in a cave in the hilly Kohlu district of the troubled Baluchistan province with his commanders when army helicopters bombarded the hideout.
Information minister Muhammad Ali Durrani was the first to confirm Bugti’s death, adding that shots fired at a military helicopter had prompted the attack on the cave where several “miscreants” had been hiding and targeting the security forces.
While Durrani did not reveal the exact number of fatalities, local media reports said more than 60 militant commanders and at least 25 special services group commandos were killed.
Military authorities confirmed the death of four army officers of the rank of major and a colonel, but family members of one of the dead majors endorsed the media’s version.
They said stones and mud boulders had rolled down in front of the cave after the aerial bombardment on Friday, virtually closing it.
When the commandos tried to remove the blockade for entry into the hideout, they were confronted with heavy fire from inside, resulting in at least 25 deaths.
Government officials were tight-lipped about how they had tracked Bugti down. But the private Geo TV claimed that intelligence and security forces had been able to identify the location thanks to the satellite phones Bugti had been using to contact relatives and the media.
Security was put on high alert all over the country, especially in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar, after news of the operation, which the Opposition parties described as “yet another ambush” by the Pakistan Army, broke.
Protesters set ablaze private and official vehicles, petrol pumps and several shops in Quetta, the provincial capital, and over a dozen people were reported injured, most of them policemen. At least three protesters died in police firing. Eyewitnesses in Quetta said the demonstrators were “playing hide-and-seek” with the security forces.
The six-party Opposition Islamic alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy and Baluch nationalist parties condemned the killing and demanded President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation and return of the army to the barracks.
Leaders of the Baluch Nationalist Alliance have asked the government to hand over Bugti’s body to his family. They have also called for a shutdown in Baluchistan tomorrow.
Talal Bugti, the slain leader’s son, said the government had not yet contacted him or any other member of the family for the handover of the body.
The insurgency in Baluchistan erupted in January 2005, when a woman doctor in Bugti’s hometown Sui was allegedly raped by security personnel stationed there days after the government announced plans to explore new oil and gas reserves in Kohlu district.
Bugti had demanded action against an accused army captain but Musharraf had insisted that the officer was innocent.